Sen. Ted Stevens guilty on all counts

Agence France-Presse

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A US court on Monday found Ted Stevens of Alaska, a Republican senator of 40 years, guilty of corruption one week before he is up for reelection in the narrowly-divided US Senate.

Stevens, 84, was convicted on all seven counts of making false statements on mandatory financial disclosure forms he filed between 1999 and 2006, a court source told AFP.

The Alaska senate seat, long considered safely Republican, now seems vulnerable: Democrats are banking on big gains in the Senate in the November 4 election, where five or six seats in the 100 strong-chamber are likely to change hands.

The Democrats are hoping to hit the magic 60 seats barrier needed to pass major legislation and the power to break Republican filibuster legislation delaying tactics. They currently enjoy a 51-49 edge in the 100-seat Senate, with the help of two independents.

In recent opinion polls Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the US Senate, trailed his Democratic challenger, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, by less than one percentage point.

Stevens was found guilty of accepting gifts from a company known as VECO, an Alaska-based firm which provides oil field support, between 1999 and 2006.

He was convicted of receiving more than 250,000 dollars worth of gifts, mainly in material and labor that doubled the size of one of his homes.

Two VECO executives pleaded guilty last year to bribing government officials, including an unnamed state senator.

Stevens, who has served in the US Senate since December 1968, is one of the body's most powerful Republicans, with seats on the Appropriations, Defense, and other committees. He has temporarily relinquished his committee vice chairmanships.

The charges normally carry a sentence of several years in prison, but Stevens is likely to get less due to his age.

Judge Emmet Sullivan, who presided in the case, has called for a hearing for February 26, the source said.

The corruption trial began on September 22 and saw 24 government witnesses and 28 defense witnesses testify in court. Stevens testified in his own defense.

Stevens and his team of lawyers made no statement as they left the courthouse.

Stevens, who has all along claimed his innocence, has been a strong advocate of opening up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

President George W. Bush declined to comment on the Stevens conviction.

A felony conviction does not automatically bar Stevens from serving in the senate.

If he is re-elected he could be expelled only with a two-third vote of his colleagues, according to US Senate rules.

Then the governor of Alaska -- Republican Sarah Palin, who also is her party's nominee for vice president -- would appoint a successor.